Monday, March 28, 2022

#2,730. The Band Wagon (1953) - Classic Musicals Triple Feature


Though he would direct a handful of fine dramatic films (The Bad and the Beautiful, Lust for Life), Vincente Minnelli will always be remembered for his outstanding musicals, two of which – An American in Paris and Gigi – won Best Picture their respective years at the Academy Awards.

His 1953 film The Band Wagon didn’t garner similar accolades; it received three Oscar nominations - for writing, costumes, and music - winning none. But don’t let that throw you. In fact, it may be the most entertaining of the bunch!

In an effort to revive his sagging career, singer / dancer Tony Newton (Fred Astaire) agrees to star in a brand-new stage production penned by his longtime pals, the husband / wife duo Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily Martin (Nanette Fabray). All three are excited to be working with Broadway sensation Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), who has agreed to direct.

Unfortunately, Cordova has reinterpreted their lighthearted comedy / romance as a musical rendition of the Faust legend, and what’s more has convinced Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse), the world’s foremost ballet dancer, to play the leading lady!

With production costs skyrocketing and the rehearsals running non-stop for days at a time, Tony begins to wonder if this show - titled The Band Wagon - is going to rejuvenate his career or kill it once and for all.

A breezy, fun musical romp, The Band Wagon features some outstanding musical numbers, including “Shine on your Shoes”, in which Astaire and Leroy Daniels, playing a shoeshine man, dance around a carnival-like attraction on New York’s 42nd street; and the now-famous “That’s Entertainment”, which pops up on a number of occasions (including the finale). And while it’s a bit silly, I really enjoyed “Triplets”, which had Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan singing a goofy ditty while dressed as infants.

Despite being in his 50s while making this film, Astaire seems as spry and bouncy as ever, and proved the perfect leading man, while Charisse shows off her incredible dancing skills throughout, especially during the very imaginative “Girl Hunt Ballet” sequence, a satire of the hard-boiled Mickey Spillane detective stories that appears towards the end of the movie.

Similar in both theme and entertainment value to the “Let’s put on a show” musicals Busby Berkeley was turning out a few decades earlier (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933), Minnelli’s The Band Wagon is a unique, supremely entertaining, and wholly satisfying motion picture experience.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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